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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Russian Soul Meets Dianetics

"What is human contact? Why does one man have success while another has failure? What are the requirements for happiness?" Valentina Kuropyatnik asks a rapt crowd of several hundred at the Central House of Artists.

When hundreds of Muscovites give up a sunny afternoon at the dacha to learn more about self-realization, it can only mean one thing: Dianetics, the "modern science of spiritual health," has made it to Moscow.

"Think of an example of communication when there is no common reality and no affinity," Valentina assigns her audience in Dianetics-ese.

"I've got one," a middle-aged man in a suit says to the woman across the aisle. "I'm on a crowded bus and I say, 'Excuse me,' as I'm exiting. That's communication without affinity," he says, picking up the Dianetics lingo.

"Ah, but not if I find you attractive," the woman replies.

"Dianetics," the self-help book written by L. Ron Hubbard, is not exactly hot off the presses in Russia. The American bestseller, the guiding light behind the U.S.-based Church of Scientology, was translated and published here two years ago.

The Church of Scientology has long been controversial in the United States, where critics contend it is a money-making scheme or cult, but church officials say court rulings and the Internal Revenue Service have deemed it a legitimate religion.

In Russia, the dianetics movement has begun to take off only recently. Within the past six months the Moscow Dianetics Center has gone from a staff of 11 to 80, and it is still growing.

"Expansion here is unprecedented," said Zara Kotric, a vice president at the Hubbard Humanitarian Center who came from the United States in January to oversee training for the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Since the Moscow center opened in April 1993, dianetics has spread to 30 cities in the former Soviet Union and new centers continue to open almost weekly. Since its publication in 1950, "Dianetics" has been translated into more than 20 different languages, but in no other country has it achieved as great a response as in Russia, Kotric said.

"In the United States, people associate the good life with material possessions," said Kotric. "Russians have more spiritual values."

Some 4,000 spiritual seekers have already found their way to the Moscow Dianetics Center for guidance, and another 500 are currently enrolled in counseling or seminars. The center's director, Vladimir Kuropyatnik, says the center would have more clients if not for the cost of joining.

"In the West it is much more difficult to convince someone that he needs Dianetics," said Kuropyatnik, who went to the United States for training. "People here understand why it is necessary. The only problem is money."

A one-week Dianetics course, which meets every day for nine hours, costs 80,000 rubles, about $40. One-on-one counseling is even more expensive, at 250,000 rubles for 25 hours. Such prices may be a stretch for the average Russian looking to change his life, but there are many willing to scrape together the money. Kuropyatnik claims that 80 percent of their customers return for more training. Their ultimate goal is to achieve "clear" status, or be free of all complexes. But to become "clear" requires both time and money.

"It's like being an athlete," Kuropyatnik said. "In order to be the best you have to practice."